This is the headquarters of the East German Security Forces - STASI. It's now a museum. We went there today in an appropriately grey, rainy day. We left the brightly lit neighborhood where we're staying and took the U Bahn (subway). The exit from the station was breathtaking. Literally. I'd been all over East Germany, in Dresden, East Berlin and all the little towns along the way as well as in both Prague and Budapest -- on several occasions before the Wall fell. I know more than most Americans about the grossness of life for the people trapped there for so many years.
Somehow though - after leaving funky Prenzlauer Berg - and even the U Bahn station with its neon and magazine stands and climbing the stairs to find - the past - was stunning. This part of Berlin is still as it was - lines of grey, sterile, tall apartment blocks. Each looking like the end of the line. No signs. No ads. No nothing. You walk a block and go into a parking lot, up a little rise and there's the building in this photo.
Enter and its shabby and grey. Here's whose statue is in the lobby.
Yup it's Karl Marx - but this time he's a small copy and here to remind us what used to be. And what used to be is pretty bad. I wish I could explain what it felt like to wander the halls where these men (it was mostly men) dominated and terrorized generations of East German citizens. To see truncheons and vans that travelled day and night with receivers to pick up random conversations - and photos of sweeps and arrests - and of this cell.
Now remember, I'm an old leftie myself. I wish the world could allow people to give what they can and receive what they need. But this is not what was happening here. Not at all. Fear was the dominant value - and conformity to prevent any threat to the state. Walking around looking in those bland offices and at the room after room of photos and documents had far more impact than even atrocity stories about the period. Because if you've been around eastern Europe before 1990 you knew the weight on your heart; you could feel the thickness in the air. And it was from this place that enforcement of that weight emanated. The museum not a fancy place and I don't think much visited but if you come to Berlin (and you'll love it here) come here. It's a deeply disturbing reminder of what people are capable of doing and of how they always call it something else when they're doing it. We had lots of thoughts about what's happening at home now in relation to this - but that's a conversation for another day.